Driven: Bentley Bentayga

EDGAR test drives Bentley's luxury SUV across the sand dunes of Dubai and the wilds of Spain.

Damien Reid May 17, 2016

The presence of the chairman and chief executive of Bentley Motors, Mr Wolfgang Durheimer, at our dinner table in Spain the night before setting off to the sample the first production versions of the new Bentley Bentayga set the tone as to how important this new car is to the company. 

Aside from being the fastest and most powerful SUV ever, the new Bentayga is the most important Bentley since the 2003 launch of the Continental GT and Mr Durheimer, one of the most powerful men in the automotive industry, was keen to follow us for the day’s activities in the Spanish countryside. 

While Bentley likes to reinforce the fact that it’s a unique product within the VW SUV range, with a bespoke chassis and air suspension developed exclusively for the Bentayga, it’s still very much a derivative of VW’s modular MLB platform which debuted under the Audi Q7 and underpins the VW Touareg as well as future Q5, Q3 and VW Tiguan variants. 

Initially launched with the 6-litre, twin-turbo, W12-cylinder engine, it will be followed up with V8, diesel and V6 hybrid options but with the order books full for the 600bhp, W12 until 2017, there’s no rush to bring the other engines online just yet. 

The W12 is 90 per cent new with a revised oil system that prevents surge and suction pumps that collect oil from the turbochargers when it’s on extreme angles. It also features variable displacement so that half the cylinders shut down to save fuel when coasting and the unit is 30kg lighter. 

Bentley claims a 0-100kmh time of 4.0 seconds with a 301kmh top speed but take it off road and the real story lies within the meaty torque figures of 900Nm from just 1350rpm. 

As is becoming the norm for all-terrain vehicles, Bentayga features an eight mode drive dynamics system it calls ‘Charisma’ that offers settings of snow, wet grass, sand, mud, gravel, comfort, sport and a ‘Bentley’ mode that’s a compromise to suit most situations. 

Weighing in at 2,420kg Bentayga’s aluminium construction saves a reputed 200kg which gave the team more freedom to go large on the interior comforts that boast nine choices of timber veneer, 15 quilted leather hide options, deep pile carpeting and hand-turned, knurled aluminium air vents with their chrome-dipped, solid brass, organ-stop sliders. 

However, the star of the interior is the optional Euro 150,000 Breitling Tourbillon by Mulliner. Yes, that’s a AED 606,000 clock for a car that has a starting price of AED 800,000.

The handcrafted tourbillon can only be made by one person at the annual rate of four per year and winds itself every 15 minutes by spinning the clock face around three times. But for the sake of checking that everything works, i.e. showing off to your friends, it also has an override button so you can make it spin around as often as you like.

Customers can choose black ebony or mother-of-pearl for the face but will have to live with the eight large diamonds and solid gold construction, though they can choose between white or rose gold. 

Sitting behind the leather-covered wheel, peering out over a Continental-like dash, the Bentley driver’s view is normally of a tree-lined boulevard or hotel valet reception in near total silence. It’s not seeing the world at a 40-degree angle while catching a four-wheel slide at walking pace by steering it down into a ravine. Nor is it, as I found out previously, an endless vista of desert dunes accompanied by plumes of sand being kicked up from the wheels with a screaming engine bouncing off its 6000rpm rev limiter. 


  • Engine: 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W12
  • Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic
  • Power: 600bhp @ 5000rpm
  • Torque: 900Nm @ 1350rpm
  • 0-100km/h: 4.0 seconds
  • Top speed: 301km/h
  • Price: AED 800,000 

Its ability to handle loose and slippery gradients was impressive given its size. It seemed as comfortable crawling over obstacles with a sensitive throttle, at one point with one wheel perched high in the air, as it was when we joined the development team in the sand dunes of the Middle East last year. Back then when temperatures touched 59°C, it was consistently bouncing off the rev-limiter as it hurtled over gigantic dunes.

The team worked hard to ensure the ride was as smooth as possible, which is where the 48-volt anti-roll system came to the fore. Its powerful electric motors twist the rear anti-roll bar in the opposite direction to the forces to keep it as flat as possible. Given the size of the car and the angles we traversed, it did a remarkable job of getting over the hurdles without anything flying around the cabin or needing to reach for the grab handles.

However, one thing that was apparent both in the UAE sands and in the Spanish hills was its approach and departure angles, which are not as good as its nearest competitor, the Range Rover. With two intercooler radiators mounted in the front bumpers, it’s wise to approach steep hills with caution to avoid digging in. 

For those who do plan to work the Bentayga, it has a 500mm wading depth and a towing capacity of 3500kg. Chances are though, it will see little more work than a school run and a steep drive to the hotel valet attendant.